The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The Standard of Ur:  War
The Standard of Ur:  King
The "Standard" of Ur?
Vulture Stele Translation
Sumerian War Chariots
War Chariot Deconstructed
Gudea Translation
The Face of Gudea
The Face of Ur-Ningirsu
The Face of Lugal-agrig-zi
Ur-Namma Translation
The Face of Ur-Namma
Face of Ur-Namma, part II
I am Ur-Namma
The Face of Shulgi
Who Were the Sumerians?
Other Sumerian Kings
The Princess Wife
The Great Fatted Jackass
Sargon's Victory Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
Site Map

The gold helmet of a warrior king. It was found by Leonard Woolley in PG 755 (PG means "Private Grave") in the Royal Tombs of Ur. Many of the artifacts in the tomb bear the name of Meskalamdug, a Sumerian king of the First Dynasty of Ur. However, the cylinder seal of Meskalamdug was found in in a subsidiary shaft of a larger tomb, PG 1054. This led others to conclude that the smaller PG 755 was not the tomb of King Meskalamdug, but it perhaps belonged to his grandson, who was buried with the legacy of his more illustrious grandfather (see a modern reconstruction of PG 755 showing the helmet lying beside the head). It has always been assumed that it was the kind of helmet usually worn by lords and kings.

Click on any image to enlarge it in a separate window.

The “King of Kish” is named for a city in Akkad. An Akkadian could be the king of Kish
(of course), but it also became the traditional title of any Sumerian king who ruled both
Sumer and Akkad. In a way, the title meant "The King of Kings".

The gold helmet that belonged to Meskalamdug, the King of Kish.

Sargon the Great, also the King of Kish, wearing the same kind of distinctive helmet.

This kind of helmet is made to look like the wearer's own hair, with a knotted bun in the back and a woven band on top. Since it is made of gold, it's always been assumed the helmet was a symbol of royalty. However, I suggest that it is exclusively the traditional helmet of
the King of Kish. The two examples shown above belonged to Meskalamdug and Sargon. Meskalamdug was Sumerian and Sargon was Akkadian. There is more than a 150 years difference between them. The only thing the two men had in common is they were both
the King of Kish. This indicates that the helmet was meant only for a King of Kish, and it
wasn't meant to symbolize other forms of royalty.

An Akkadian wore this type of helmet if he was literally the king of Kish. A Sumerian wore
this helmet only if he conquered Kish and it allies (and most of Sumer) to thus become
the King of Kings.

It has been argued that Sumerian and Akkadian noblemen wore this same type of helmet. In other words, it is a generic sort of helmet that was worn by both sides during combat. However, this type of helmet was used for battlefield identification, to make a warrior recognizable from a distance. So it would be a problem if many Sumerian and Akkadian noblemen lined up on the opposite sides of a battlefield wearing the same kind of helmet. Also, none of the Sumerian noblemen on the Standard of Ur wear this type of helmet. It is therefore unlikely that the helmet was symbolic of royalty in general – it was meant only for kings. Since it's so distinctive, it identifies a specific king. Not just any king could show up on a battlefield wearing this helmet. It rightfully belonged to only one man, the King of Kish.

An indication that the helmet isn't meant to symbolize royalty or kings in general can be found on the Standard of Ur. It shows an actual Sumerian king who's engaged in an actual battle who is not wearing this kind of helmet. There's a reason for this:

                                     The king's helmet on the Standard of Ur.

Eannatum's helmet on the Vulture Stele.

Eannatum is the king on the Vulture Stele. I have also identified Eannatum as possibly being the king on the Standard of Ur.

On the Standard of Ur, the Sumerian king wears a plain military helmet. On the Vulture Stele, the Sumerian king wears the helmet with a knotted bun in the back.

The battle depicted on the Standard of Ur shows a Sumerian king just a few moments after he defeated the Kish and their allies to thus become the new King of Kish. So he still wears the Sumerian military helmet that he wore during the battle.

On the Vulture Stele, Eannatum wears the helmet with a knotted bun in the back. This is because the Vulture Stele was constructed after the end of Eannatum's reign. The stele lists his entire career, including his victories over Kish, Ur, Umma, and other cities, along with his conquests of "many foreign lands". So it's only after he had conquered both Sumer and Akkad that he started wearing this distinctive helmet. The Vulture Stele portrays Eannatum at the peak of his power and glory, as the King of Kish, the King of Kings.

Eannatum is the third known King of Kish who wears this kind of helmet. There are no examples of anyone wearing this helmet who was not a King of Kish.

The figure on the left was found in the Akkadian city of Mari. The figure on the right was found in the Royal Tombs of Ur. There are three possibilities for their identities -- Eannatum, Mesanepada, or his father Meskalamdug. All three were known Sumerian Kings of Kish. Notice the helmets with the knotted buns in the back.  Enlarge left, right.

Carved stone helmet of a King of Kish. See the back of the helmet. It would be very difficult to carve a large stone into a thin-walled structure without breaking it. The holes at the bottom were used for a cloth trim and to hold an interior lining, just like the helmet shown at the top of the page. The provenance of the sculpture isn't known so there's no way to identify the king who commissioned it. The British Museum labeled it "a wig" and it's dated circa 2500 B.C. This would put it in the date range for Meskalamdug, Mesanepada, and Eannatum. Note the knotted bun on the back of the helmet.

There are some differences in the appearance of each helmet of this type (depending on the historic period, the individual tastes of the king, and whether he was Akkadian or Sumerian), but all of the helmets have the same basic features. These include the knotted bun, the woven top and headband, the stylized locks of hair, and the ear-covers. Not all of the helmets have every one of these features. The ear-covers in particular is a Sumerian addition.

The oldest helmet of this type is the one that belonged to Meskalamdug, since he predates both Eannatum and Sargon, though there were other Sumerian and Akkadian Kings of Kish who reigned before him. Meskalamdug was a Sumerian king, but the helmet originated in Akkad. Proof of this, and the fact that the helmet designates the King of Kish, can be found on Sargon's Victory Stele:

Sargon leads the victory procession.

Sargon was the king of Kish. His long hair is knotted in a bun. Since the victory procession occurs after the battle, Sargon isn't wearing the helmet that he wore during combat; but notice how the helmet shown below exactly mirrors the way he wears his hair, in a chignon. This proves the Akkadian origin of the helmet because Sumerian kings in this period of history never wore their hair this way.

Sargon's helmet matches his hairstyle.

Sargon holds a net full of prisoners. Using a mace, he strikes a long-haired prisoner who is struggling to escape from the net:

As explained on a separate page of this website (Sargon's Victory Stele) the long-haired man in the net is Ur-Zababa. He is the former king of Kish. Sargon usurped the throne from him after a bloody battle. He is the only prisoner in the net who has long hair. His long loose hair means he had lost his royal bun while fighting (unlike Sargon) and it symbolizes his loss of kingship. As the "once and future kings of Kish", he and Sargon are the only men on the stele who have long hair. A cylinder seal impression showing Sargon's brother Ubil-Esthar (center) wearing his long hair in a bun, indicates that it was a typical hairstyle for Akkadian royals.

Lamgi-Mari, the king of the Akkadian city of Mari. See the entire statue. Notice how his hairstyle exactly matches the hair on the Sumerian helmet of Meskalamdug. It also matches the carved stone helmet of a Sumerian king that is shown above. This proves that the helmets of the Sumerian Kings of Kish mirrored the long hair of Akkadian kings.

This is somewhat surprising, considering the fact that all Sumerian kings had shaven heads.

Votive statue of King Eannatum.

After the Uruk period at the very beginning of Sumerian history, there are no depictions of
a Sumerian king with long hair worn in a chignon. Which begs the question:  Why would
a Sumerian king with a clean-shaven head wear an Akkadian helmet that has long hair
knotted in a bun?

There can be only one answer to this question. It's to show that he is the King of Kish, the King of Kings, the ruler of Sumer and Akkad.

Eannatum, the King of Kish.

Eannatum's helmet is a combination of the Sumerian and Akkadian styles. The ear-covers
and the shape of the helmet are distinctively Sumerian. The knotted bun and the headband
are Akkadian. It is the perfect helmet for a Sumerian King of Kish.

July 12, 2012